As the Year of the Dragon ends shortly, the Year of the Little Dragon (Snake) is approaching. It is now Tet Eve in Saigon. This will be my 9th Tet here in Vietnam. I still remember the first couple of Tets I experienced here since 2004. They have changed significantly.
I remember Tet as a time where family gathered and had a short meal roughly 4-6 hours before midnight. The streets were bare, nearly all of the shops closed. At the stroke of midnight, all of the homes, regardless whether they were Buddhist or Christian, would offer incense to their ancestors. The streets would soon be crowded with people heading to their pagodas, temples and churches. It was a very spiritual moment, a truly Vietnamese New Year.
Since 2008 when Vietnam entered the WTO, Tet has changed. On Tet Eve, shops started to stay open later. Restaurants that normally would close stayed open as well. Today I was surprised to see popular coffee shops stating they would remain open until 10 pm when in the past they would be closed by lunch time. The biggest surprise is the large number of businesses that will be open on Day 1 of Tet which was unheard of before 2008.
Saigon that was once a quiet city throughout Tet is no longer such. It has been replaced by the large gathering of motorbikes, cars and taxis heading to District 1 to view a somewhat lackluster fireworks display. What should be a spiritual happy moment has been replaced by motorbikes pushing their way through ever crowded streets in efforts to be the first to get the good spot to view the fireworks.
At the stroke of midnight, the fireworks will bring in the 2013 Year of the Snake. Families and homes will offer incense to their ancestors. Many will then “rush” to the pagodas, temples and churches to beat the returning “fireworks” traffic. Chaos has replaced tradition forcing many of us old long term Expats to race home literally 1-2 hours before midnight in efforts to make it to our homes to avoid the traffic. This is what Saigon has become.
I miss Old Saigon…